Saturday, February 12, 2011

An Interview with Ramin Bahrani | Reverse Shot

An Interview with Ramin Bahrani | Reverse Shot

RS: I was looking at your top ten Criterion Collection list and noticed a disproportionate amount of films by Italian directors—Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini, Rossellini, Olmi, De Sica. What about Italian movies and specifically Italian neorealism are you drawn to?

RB: I like those films because they deal with reality. I’ve always been interested in reality and I’ve always been terrified of escape. I don’t like escape in my personal life or in my art, and I prefer to try to understand how I should behave in this world based on what’s really around me. And I try to do that with my eyes open to the best of whatever knowledge I have, which is finite—I don’t know everything.

I don’t like escape films. I don't like movies that don’t match the world I’m living in at all. Fellini’s films may be all over the place, but the emotional truths in them match what I see in my life. Same with Buñuel. Unfortunately—Jean Renoir talks about this, his idea of reality—in our day-to-day life we keep erasing reality and putting up barricades to it. Not just film, but in conversation, buying food, and art. Why do this? It just fools people. I don’t want to go to a film that people say is optimistic and hopeful when nothing in that movie resembles the world I’m living in. That doesn’t make me optimistic and hopeful, that makes me depressed.

Solo is about a tough subject, but, for one thing, it’s very funny—so I can at least get the audience’s attention—it’s exciting, it’s dramatic. But there’s also something in there that, because Solo is not a famous person, because there’s no tricks in the film—Hollywood twists and turns that don’t make any sense, no music to highlight the emotions, no swooping camera all over the place to distract you, no quick editing—because people walk away thinking this is something real and could really happen, then it makes Solo’s giant act of love on that mountaintop something acceptable to us.


RS: Do you write your scripts first and then find actors to play the characters or do you find actors and then write scripts around them?

RB: Unless you’re doing a space movie or something it makes no sense to sit alone in a room and write. You go to the real location—you write. You go the real location—you rewrite. You go to the real location—you reconceive. You meet the real people, you add them into your script, you change them a little for your fictional means. You cast, either from the real location or outside the real location, and based on those people you rewrite again.

This is important as a concept, and more and more people are doing it, working in this style. As opposed to storyboarding—it makes no sense to storyboard for this kind of movie.

RS: Your work contains multiple layers, but it also seems there are two main threads: one is that of metaphor, where someone like Solo is a figure who stands for perseverance and compassion, while the second is that of the particular social, familial, and economic forces that shape this specific character’s identity.

That’s true. I’ve tried to make each film very specific to its characters—the way they talk, what they’re wearing, their props—and that specificity comes from the reality of the situation. I think there are metaphysical ideas here, grand meanings, but those meanings are created out of the specificity of the situation, by the research, the details. I’m a firm believer that those details add up to the meaning. Of course these details are all selections—to pick these characters in all three films and those situations, that’s a big part of the meaning. A Pakistani guy, a couple of Hispanic kids, a Senegalese guy, even William, who feels even more like an outsider in Winston-Salem than Solo—that’s a huge part of the meaning. These are three American films by an American director named, Ramin Bah-what? Starring who? Yeah, these are three American films starring three American people made by an American guy. And if you don’t believe it, look at the last election.